This Final Climbing Management Plan (FCMP)/Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for Devils Tower National Monument sets a new direction for managing climbing activity at the tower for the next three to five years. Its purpose is to protect the natural and cultural resources of Devils Tower and to provide for visitor enjoyment and appreciation of this unique feature. The tower will be managed as a significant natural and cultural resource. The National Park Service will manage Devils Tower as primarily a crack climbing site in such a way that will be more compatible with the butte's geology, soils, vegetation, nesting raptors, visual appearance, and natural quiet. Recreational climbing at Devils Tower will be managed in relation to the tower's significance as a cultural resource. No new bolts or fixed pitons will be permitted on the tower, though replacement of existing bolts and fixed pitons will be allowed. In this way, the NPS intends that there be no new physical impacts to Devils Tower.
In respect for the reverence many American Indians hold for Devils Tower as a sacred site, rock climbers will be asked to voluntarily refrain from climbing on Devils Tower during the culturally significant month of June. The monument's staff will begin interpreting the cultural significance of Devils Tower for all visitors along with the more traditional themes of natural history and rock climbing.
There are many benefits to the implementation of the FCMP. The environmental consequences of the FCMP will include increased protection for natural resources. No critical habitat for listed species will be negatively affected. Visitor experience will be enhanced by a more diverse and balanced interpretive program. In turn, improved communication and understanding among the monument's user groups will lead to greater respect and tolerance for differing perspectives.
The FCMP considered a full range of alternatives. In addition to Alternative D, the preferred climbing management plan, the other alternatives considered under the Draft Climbing Management Plan/Environmental Assessment (DCMP/EA) included: Alternative A, which allowed for virtually unlimited and unrestricted year around climbing and bolting, Alternative B, which proposed no change from current management, Alternative C, which proposed phasing in a voluntary June closure to climbing over three years and allowing for regulated new bolting, Alternative E, which included a mandatory June closure to climbing and prohibiting any placement of bolts, and Alternative F, which proposed to immediately close the tower to all climbing year around and called for the removal of all climbing gear from the tower. The official 90-day review period for this document ended on October 31, 1994. For further information about this document, contact Deborah O. Liggett, Superintendent, George L. San Miguel, Chief of Resources Management, or Jim Schlinkmann, Chief Ranger, at:
Devils Tower National Monument
Post Office Box 10
Devils Tower, WY 82714-0010
United States Department of the Interior National Park Service
The unique geological formation known as Devils Tower annually draws nearly half a million visitors. Most visitors enjoy photographing the butte, hiking area trails, camping, picnicking, and wildlife viewing. A few thousand technical rock climbers annually travel from across the country and the world to scale the butte's nearly vertical cracks and columns. Devils Tower also is a sacred site to several American Indian peoples of the northern plains. Increasingly, American Indian groups travel to the monument to perform traditional cultural activities. Devils Tower has been determined eligible for inclusion to the National Register of Historic Places as a traditional cultural property.
Recreational climbing at Devils Tower has increased dramatically from 312 climbers in 1973 to over 6,000 annually. New route development in the last ten years resulted accelerated route development and bolt placement. Today the tower has about 220 named routes. Approximately 600 metal bolts are currently embedded in the rock along with several hundred metal pitons. Devils Tower is world famous for its crack climbing, which depends primarily on removable protection placed by climbers in cracks.
Activities performed by the numerous climbers on the tower during the spring through fall climbing season have affected nesting raptors, soil, vegetation, the integrity of the rock, the area's natural quiet, and the rock's physical appearance. Some American Indians have complained that the presence of climbers on the sacred butte and the placement of bolts in the rock has adversely impacted their traditional activities and seriously impaired the spiritual quality of the site.
In response to the many climbing issues at Devils Tower, the National Park Service began preparing a Draft Climbing Management Plan (DCMP)/Environmental Assessment (EA) in 1992. The DCMP's preferred alternative and five other alternatives addressed the monument's objectives to: 1) preserve and protect the monument's natural and cultural resources for present and future generations, 2) manage recreational climbing on the tower, 3) increase visitor awareness of American Indian beliefs and traditional cultural practices at Devils Tower, and 4) provide the monument with a guide for managing climbing use that is consistent with National Park Service management policies and other management plans at Devils Tower National Monument.
THE PREFERRED ALTERNATIVE AND THE OTHER ALTERNATIVES
The No Change Alternative and five other alternatives, including the Preferred Alternative, were analyzed in the DCMP. The anticipated effects of the alternatives informed management and the public of the potential impacts of the different strategies. The No Change Alternative was described in detail to provide a baseline from which the reader could respond to the issues and proposals. The other alternatives provided different management options that answered the above listed objectives with varying levels of success.
All proposed alternatives contained some common elements including: 1) developing a long-term resources monitoring program that will include conducting a Visitor Education and Resource Protection plan, 2) a cross-cultural education program that will interpret all historic uses of the monument, 3) revising the climber registration cards, 4) promoting responsible and ethical climbing practices, and 5) completing the identification, evaluation, and nomination procedures for significant cultural resources, 6) incorporate the NPS service-wide climbing regulations.
Alternative A offered essentially unregulated climbing on the tower and allowed the greatest variety of climbing activities among the alternatives. Climbers would have been able to drill and hammer new bolts and pitons wherever and whenever they pleased. Mandatory climber registration would have ended. Both crack and face climbing use would have likely continued to grow. All types and colors of climber equipment would have been permitted on the rock. Only routes near raptor nest sites would have been closed during the nesting season and only after climbers reported finding the nest. Climbers would have been able to camp overnight on the tower.
Alternative B was the No Change Alternative. It would have been a continuation of the status quo in climbing management at Devils Tower. Climbers would have continued to climb year around by simply registering with the monument. Unlimited drilling of bolts and hammering of new pitons would have continued. Both crack and face climbing use would have continued to grow. All types and colors of climbing equipment would have been allowed on the butte. Only routes near raptor nest sites would have been closed during the nesting season and only after climbers reported finding the nest. Camping on the tower would still have been prohibited.
Alternative C contained many of the same elements as alternative D with some exceptions. As in Alternative D, under Alternative C, climbers would have been asked to voluntarily refrain from climbing on Devils Tower during the month of June. During the first year under Alternative C, however, the voluntary closure would have lasted one week. During the second year under Alternative C the closure would have lasted two weeks. Not until the third year (1997) would the voluntary closure have persisted through the whole month of June. Placement of bolts on the tower would have required separate registration or a permit. In order to better allow for free raptor nest site selection, climbing levels in March and April would not have been allowed to exceed current levels. Once climbers reported a raptor nest, routes within 50 meters of the confirmed raptor nest would have been closed for the duration of the nesting season.
Alternative D was the Preferred Alternative. With some minor modifications from the DCMP, it is the basis for the Final Climbing Management Plan (FCMP). Under the FCMP the voluntary June closure to climbing on Devils Tower will begin in 1995. The closure will immediately last the whole month of June. The 30-day closure could become mandatory if judged not successful. The determination of success for the voluntary June closure will take place after a three to five year evaluation period. No new bolts or fixed pitons will be allowed on the tower, though replacement of existing bolts and fixed pitons could occur through a registration system (the language on pitons was not part of the DCMP). Rehabilitation of access trails and summit trails will help mitigate damage to soil and vegetation. Only camouflaged climbing equipment will be left on the tower and the leaving of webbing on the tower will be phased out. NPS personnel will identify falcon nest sites early in spring. Once an occupied nest is located, climbing routes within view of the nest site, or approximately 50 meters on either side of the nest, will be closed for the duration of the nesting season. In order to reduce stress to the adult falcons during the courtship and nest establishment period, the area around previously used nest sites will be closed each March 15. The closure are will be adjusted to cover the occupied nest sites once they are located by monument staff. In the DCMP, this element had been essentially the same as what was in Alternative C, but was changed to make it more effective and manageable.
Alternative E would have required a mandatory June closure to climbing on Devils Tower beginning in 1995. No new bolts or the replacement of existing bolts would have been permitted. Approach trails to the tower would have been developed, signed, and maintained. No ropes would have been allowed to be left on the tower. All other equipment would have been well camouflaged. The use of chalk and rosin by climbers would have been prohibited. All of Devils Tower would have been closed to climbing in March and April or until NPS employees located the falcon nest site(s). Once the nest was located, all climbing routes within 100 meters of the nest would have remained closed through the remainder of the nesting season.
Alternative F would have permanently closed Devils Tower to all climbing beginning in 1995. All bolts, pitons, and other climbing gear would have been removed from the tower. All trails to and on the tower would have been rehabilitated to a more natural condition.
The potential environmental consequences of all the alternatives, including the Preferred Alternative, were addressed in the DCMP. Impact topics included geology, wildlife, soils and vegetation, natural quiet, visual aesthetics, and ethnographic, historic, and archeological resources.
Implementation of the Preferred Alternative under the FCMP will: improve the monument staff's knowledge of visitors, natural and cultural resources, and impacts to those resources; reduce physical impacts to the tower rock; improve the opportunity for prairie falcons to successfully nest on the tower; reduce soil erosion; reduce impacts to vegetation; reduce noise and visual impacts on the tower; increase climber awareness of their resource impacts; encourage climber participation in mitigating resource impacts caused by climbing activities; and improve the level of cultural awareness and sensitivity among all monument visitors while reducing the potential for conflict by instilling mutual respect for different cultural perspectives. Adverse impacts will be few or of limited duration. Some recreational climbing activities will end and others will be curtailed during a part of the year. Additional NPS staff will be required to fully implement this plan.
REVIEW OF THE DRAFT CLIMBING MANAGEMENT PLAN
Approximately 1,200 copies of the plan were disseminated during the public comment period which ran from the date of release, July 15, 1994, to October 31, 1994. Late comments were accepted through November 9, 1994. A total of 286 letters and two petitions were received. All parties on the monument's DCMP mailing list, including those listed under "Consultation and Coordination," received a copy. Through the summer and fall of 1994, anyone who asked for a copy of the plan received one.
During the public comment period, six public meetings were held in the local and regional area. About 200 people attended the meetings. Public comments were recorded at each meeting.
1) August 27, 1994 - St. Paul, MN - 50 people
2) September 6, 1994 - Gillette, WY - 52 people
3) September 7, 1994 - Rapid City, SD - 41 people
4) September 8, 1994 - Denver, CO - 12 people
5) September 9, 1994 - Laramie, WY - 27 people
6) September 10, 1994 - Pine Ridge, SD - 14 people
All agency responses to substantive public comments from all meetings and letters are listed at the back of this document, the Final Climbing Management Plan (FCMP), as an attachment to the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).
Rocky Mountain Region Map
Devils tower NM - Annual Numbers of Climbers 1973- 1994
Return to Devil Tower National Monument Home Page
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Devils Tower NM, P.O. Box 10, Devils Tower, WY 82714